Greg confessed to finding this exercise very difficult, eventually he had to settle on ten pieces of music to be marooned with rather than the eight that the format of the radio programme uses. So listed below, and in no particular order, are his 'must have’ ten.
1. Vivi Tiranno -
Composed for the Castrati voice Greg has said that he would want to have with him a recording of it sung by Marilyn Horne whom he cites as his favourite mezzo "of all time".
2. Spem in Allium -
Spem in Allium which is Latin for 'Hope in any other' is a forty-
3. Harold in Italy -
Paganini encouraged Berlioz to write Harold en Italie. He had recently acquired a Stradivarius and wanted Berlioz to compose music that would be worthy of the instrument.
4. Symphony in Psalms -
By far the best-
5. Vissi Darte -
6. Casta Diva -
Norma is generally regarded as an example of the supreme height of the bel canto tradition. Maria Callas made the role her own but Greg has said he would want a recording of it by Montserrat Caballe another of his favourite sopranos.
7. Lascia ch'io pianga -
Composed in 1711 much of Rinaldo was 'borrowed' from other works of its composer. After 1731 the opera was not staged for more than 200 years.The aria " Lascia ch'io pianga" has become a particular favourite; and Greg has decided that he would want to listen to it sung by yet another of his favourite performers Cecilia Bartoli.
8. 'The Mad Song' -
The opera premiered it 1835. The "Mad Scene", "Ill docle suono...Spargi d'araro pianto" provided a breakthrough for Dame Joan Sutherland. It is the nineteenth most performed opera worldwide.
9. Song to the Moon -
Rusalka was first performed in Prague in 1901, it's plot has been described as a sad fairy tale. Greg has chosen Renee Fleming once more as the voice he would want for a recording of this beautiful aria.
10. Ave Maria -
In Verdi's opera Otello, Desdemona, wife of Otello, sings the Ave Maria in the fourth act, shortly before her death. The Aria is sung in Italian, but it is based on the original Latin prayer. For this last choice Greg has said that he would want to have the piece sung by Maria Callas.
It is perhaps no great surprise then that after giving the matter much thought the majority of the pieces chosen by Greg transpired to be vocal performances. If you would like to hear the pieces of music that he selected, the original programme played the guests choices, they are all readily available with a quick search on You Tube; and finally....
The Luxury Item
Greg named his luxury item without hesitation and knew straight away that he would want to take a piano with him; piano as well as vocal studies have been occupying much of his time in the last couple of years. Quite what a desert island climate would do to such a delicate instrument is debatable. Greg is actually in good company however with his choice, as a piano is apparently one of the most frequently requested items. The BBC website states that throughout the history of Desert Island Discs a piano has been requested as the luxury item nearly two hundred times. Guests that have requested a piano include John Barry, Jools Holland and Andre Previn. Whilst a piano being requested by musical guests is perhaps not very surprising it has also been requested by eminent chemists, mountaineers, Archbishops and Princesses. Apparently this object has been considered by many as the ideal companion and one that would be very useful in dealing with the solitude that Desert Island life would impose!
The high male voice is not a new phenomenon in song performance. It is part of an ancient tradition of male singing and, to some extent, this may have led to modern day confusion regarding terms used to describe this apparent vocal paradox.
The term Contratenor appeared in the scripting of sacred Christian music as early as the 14th century, but was used to describe a vocal part, as opposed to a specific voice type. The Church had also, at that time, a culture of an exclusively male choir, and therefore was in need of high male voices. From the 16th century onwards the scripting of music into vernacular languages saw various terms evolving for the different vocal parts. In England the term countertenor started to be used.
Male voices that could sing the higher vocal parts came from different sources; men with a naturally high voice, falsettists, men with natural tenor, baritone or bass voices who were able to produce a higher sound using their vocal chords in a very specific manner and pre pubescent boys. These child performers had a limited ‘shelf life’ as soprano singers which led to one of the darker aspects of the history of song, the creation and use of Castrati singers. Greg has discussed his voice in several interviews. His speaking voice falls well within what would be considered an average male range, but he can sing with ease into the Soprano range.
The female voice, which is perhaps more commonly associated with high notes is, of course, now to be heard in all singing environments. However, it was not the female voice that led to the decline in the popularity of Castrati performers and the use of the countertenor voice from the 18th century onwards but rather the increasing dominance of the tenor voice, especially in the world of Opera which meant that for some time the only place that the countertenor voice was likely to be still heard was in Church choirs. This was indeed the environment that, in the first instance, nurtured and gave a platform to the performer who is credited with perhaps having the greatest single influence on the resurgence in the popularity of the countertenor voice in the mid 20th century, Alfred Dellar. Thanks largely to his renown, the male high voice once again delights audiences. Greg discussed his voice with Tim Rhys Evans, giving a demonstration of his range by singing through sets of scales and performing part of the aria Casta Diva during a television documentary aired in 2010 that examined the full ‘range’ of the male tenor voice. High notes made by male singers do have a unique and special sound, an ethereal quality; which keeps those who appreciate this voice type ever vigilant for a new ‘voice’.
When Greg is not performing pieces he is often composing, either new and original works or rearranging the works of other composers. As you may have seen from the ‘Low Downs’ page Greg is presently immersed in musical study, what better time could there be to ask him what some of his favourite pieces of music are? This is a question that has often been put to him in interviews that he has given, and he always declares that he could not say, that he has too many favourites. So to narrow the choice down for him this site asked him what his favourite pieces of classical music are; which ones would he list if he were ever to be a guest of the well known radio show Desert Island Discs. For the past 60 years the BBC has broadcast the programme called Desert Island Discs where guests are told to imagine themselves marooned on a desert island and asked which eight pieces of music they would want to have with them; finally having to choose just a single piece from the eight that would be their ultimate choice if they were indeed allowed only one. They are also asked to name one luxury item to take with them, which had to be of no practical assistance with regards to enabling escape from the island. The original presenter of the programme, Roy Plomley, was famous, or perhaps infamous, for his strictness with his guests adhering to the rules but as you will see if you read below Greg had to squeeze another two into his list of desert island discs.
What music would the singer want to listen to? Would he want instrumental versions of his favourite arias so that he could sing them even though there would be no audience? Or would he want to listen to pieces of music sung by some of his favourite performers? Perhaps they would be pieces that he would like to play? Read below to find out…not perhaps surprisingly there are a fair few ‘high notes’ pieces included.
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